A Year’s Reflection on Women’s Land Rights
I began my work at the Landesa Center for Women’s Land Rights (LCWLR) in August 2011 and am in my one year reflection period on the organization and the work that we do here. I do not have a legal background but rather one in business, and my career thus far has focused on economic development. Why did I make the switch from economic development to land rights, you might ask? The thing is I don’t feel like I have; rather, I’ve changed my focus from financial assets through microloans to physical assets in land. Two very different, but important, assets needed for economic development to occur, especially in rural areas.
One might argue that rights to land isn’t an issue for people living in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, because they have been living on the land for centuries. However, although people have lived on that land for centuries, the land that they may lay claim to is not necessarily legally secured nor do they have complete control over the resource at their feet. This is especially true for women in many areas of sub-Saharan Africa who, like in many places around the world, are considered property themselves. My colleagues have heard both men and women say, “How can property own property?” Of course, my outlook is that women are not property; they deserve equal rights, especially to land. That’s what I work for and will continue to work for at the LCWLR.
The work we are doing at the LCWLR is threefold—ensuring that Landesa fixes a gender lens on our own work on land rights for the rural poor, building external capacity and understanding about the importance of women’s land rights across the international development community, and providing technical assistance to projects to ensure that women, as well as men, have secure rights to the land they farm. The LCWLR engages with actors from large multinational organizations to government entities to local NGOs. And while this is a long road to walk down with many challenges along the way, I believe we are making a difference and will continue to do so for many years to come.
I also know that by focusing on land rights for women, which includes access to and control over land, we are affecting a number of different development needs, including the need for economic development. Studies have shown that land rights have linkages to health care, nutrition, food sovereignty, education, and income generation. Investing in women brings the impact to the household level where more of the investment will be made in children, which we know over the long run will improve the economic output of a country. By focusing on women’s land rights, we can significantly reduce poverty.
As I look back over the last year, I am still excited to come to work every day for an organization that is dedicated to women’s land rights. Although it seems like a niche area of international development, it holds amazing possibilities for all of the development work being performed in the world today.